Homographs that’ll make your scratch your heads

Let’s face it – English is a crazy language. There is no ham in hamburger, no egg in eggplant, neither apple nor pine in pineapple. French fries weren’t invented in France, and English muffins weren’t invented in England. Furthermore, quicksand can work slowly, boxing rings are square and a guinea pig is not from Guinea nor is it a pig!

English is also a silly language at times, too. I mean, who in their right mind would create two words with the same spelling and different meanings? I am of course talking about those pesky homographs. For example:

“He wound up the clock with ease, even though he had a wound to his right hand.”

How ridiculous! Of course, you could, and probably would, rephrase that sentence to avoid the homographs. But there are times when we find ourselves accidentally sucked into the vacuum, and like a dog’s mess gracing the pavement of a dark lane, we occasionally step on a homograph-ridden sentence.

Now, before we dive into our list of homographs for your grammatical pleasure, bear in mind that a homograph that is also pronounced differently is called a ‘heteronym’. Oh, and while we’re here, don’t forget the ‘homophone’, which is when two or more words share the same pronunciation but have different meanings, and may or may not be spelled the same way.

And one last thing…

The homograph, heteronym and homophone are all types of ‘homonym’; which is defined as two or more words that share the same spelling, or the same pronunciation, or both, but have different meanings.

Confused? Don’t sweat it. Your friends will scratch their scalps too when you share these:

1. Rita was too close to the door to close it.
2. Dan’s wife said he should polish the Polish furniture on a regular basis.
3. I did not object to the object in question.
4. There is no time like the present to present a friend with a present.
5. The vegetable farm was asked to produce organic produce for the local community.
6. Unfortunately the insurance was invalid for the invalid.
7. The dog lead was dangerous because it was made of lead.
8. I had to hide the animal hide before my vegetarian friend came to dinner.
9. A seamstress and a sewer fell down into a sewer pipeline.
10. There was a row between the oarsmen about how to row properly.
11. The wind was too strong to wind the sail.
12. She shed a tear upon seeing the tear in the painting.
13. The soldier had to desert his platoon in the desert.
14. I had to subject the subject to a series of tests.
15. The buck does get rather excited when the does are around.
16. The dump was so full it had to refuse more refuse.
17. To help plant the seeds the farmer taught his sow to sow.
18. The contract was subject to the term that I didn’t contract an illness within the first two months.
19. It took me a minute to locate the minute hole in the fence.
20. After months of procrastination, Helen decided to resume writing her resume.
21. I shall stop here because I am content with this content!

by Jennifer Frost

Posted in Improve your English

10 American words you’ll never hear a British person say

cleatsWhat do we call this? A cleat? A shoe with cleats on?

This list is rife with bewilderment and confusion, as a British mind attempts to make sense of terms, names and phrases that simply do not happen on the European side of the Atlantic.

If you’re about to get married, and you want to throw a party to commemorate the passing of your single-ness, that’s got different names depending on where you are. The British prefer to call their male would-be-weds stags and their female counterparts hens. So instead of a bachelor or bachelorette party, there’s a stag do and a hen do. And it’s unlikely that, as with other traditions like baby showers, the American version will eventually take over as, to most British ears bachelorette sounds like an unnecessarily frilly feminization of an exclusively male term, akin to, I dunno, beardette or prostatrix.

Sometimes other people’s language decisions can be baffling. Imagine you’d never heard the term backhoe before, would you assume it meant the same as digger? Neither did I. Digger seems a lot clearer a word for a vehicle with a big digging device on its back—even one used for hoeing—than backhoe. Put a digger (most commonly known by its trade name JCB) in front of a Brit and ask them to think of alternative names for this invaluable building tool, and they simply would not come close to backhoe. Why would they? It’s a digger. It is used for digging. It digs. Backhoe? Tsk!

Bear claw (and elephant ear)
It’s odd, given that there are so many British sweet snacks with strangely unappetizing names—flies graveyard, fat rascal—that the bear claw and elephant ear haven’t made their way across the Atlantic. It is certainly not a lack of interest in danish-style pastries with fruit filling or palmier-style pastry swirls. Suffice to say if you’re visiting the U.K. and ask your hosts where you could get your hands on a bear claw, be prepared to wind up at the zoo.

This is a little fiddly. Basically, U.S. sporting terminology uses the term cleats to describe a pair of shoes or boot with studs or spikes coming out of the sole to avoid slipping on grass. However, the U.K. version, the word simply refers to the studs themselves. That is, if we use the word at all (studs seems to work just fine). The only slight exception is that cyclists, whose cleats are not studs, do use the word more often, but its by no means common. You’re far more likely to hear football or rugby boots referred to as football or rugby boots, golf shoes as golf shoes, and for cyclists to talk openly about the stuff on the soles of their footwear to a largely befuddled audience.

The M25 is a mighty motorway, forming a circle around London and keeping it safe from invaders (by creating a mighty perimeter shield of traffic). It is a road, and it is roughly in the shape of a ring, so it, and other roads that do a similar job, are known as ring roads. By contrast, a beltway sounds more like the bit where your groceries go at the supermarket, or possibly a branch of Weight Watchers that focuses more on girth than poundage.

The Brits have an international reputation for cooking food in hot liquids, so you could forgive them a moment’s confusion over the words boil and broil, especially when they’re really not the same thing. If you want to make toast, you have no toaster but you do have a cooker with an overhead heat source, for a Brit, that’s grilling, not broiling, as it takes place under a grill. Although grilling isn’t a million miles away from griddling, so neither approach makes life easy for hard-working chefs in a noisy kitchen environment. Let’s call this a draw.

Not that it would be hard to work out what someone meant if they used the term in the U.K., but if you were to come home to your home and find someone had broken in and stolen your stuff, while we can all agree that the crime is burglary, the verb form of that term is very different. While Americans say burglarize, Brits say burgle because it’s a crime committed by burglars, not burglarizers.

A fine old American expression, derived from “would rather” (as in “if I had my would-rathers, I’d been living in Paris now”), but one that is entirely unknown in the U.K. outside of the context of American literature. It’s not that there’s been a decision not to use the term, delightful and colorful as it is, it’s just not used, and would probably cause a curling-up and blushing of any British person brave enough to give it a go.

It’s not as if there isn’t a term for things reaching their least unexpected state in the U.K—normality—it’s just the suffix is different. Normalcy just seems like a deliberately strange alternate choice, one which raises the interesting possibility of other options that may have once been on the table during a long and protracted brainstorm, such as normalitude, normalment, normalness or (for normal women) normalatrix.

Stick shift
“Do you drive a stick?” is a question that always raises a quizzical British eyebrow whenever it crops up in American TV shows or books, not least because the person asking it is always pointing to a car and never at anything that ever fell off a tree. And for once, this is a difference of culture as well as simple language. The British driver’s default position is to drive a car with a manually operated gearbox and three pedals. Automatic gearboxes were traditionally viewed with suspicion and only relatively recently enjoyed any kind of prominence as a driver option in Britain. Consequently, not only is it nonsensical to enquire as to the option of driving what Brits call a manualbecause almost everyone does, they wouldn’t understand stick shift as a term either, especially as automatics also have a stick that requires shifting.

Posted in A Cup of Teach, Teachers only

Little Tricks to Get Your Class’ Attention


Beginnings are always the hardest. Ask any teacher who walks in at the beginning of the class session and finds Casy text-messaging someone, Katie and Sam chatting, and Tom snoozing. This behavior isn’t limited to children, either; inattention is endemic in our fast-paced culture with so much competing media and information distracting us. However, it is necessary to get the class’s attention at the beginning of the session to establish order, the plan for the day, and begin instruction. But it’s not always so easy.

What can you do to get the class’s attention riveted on you?

Starting off Strong

Often students goof off because they just don’t know what else to do. You can start strong every day by establishing a clear routine and expectations for starting off: that they come to attention, be in their seats, and ready to work. Hold to this routine to establish order in the class. Having a clear plan for the day also gets student’s attention.

5 Tips to Get the Class’s Attention

1 Change the level and tone of your voice
Often just changing the level and tone of your voice, lowering it or raising it, will signal to the students it’s time to pay attention.

2 Use props like a bell or whistle
Better for lower level or younger learners, props like these clearly mark beginnings, endings, and other transitions within the class.

3 Use a visual related to the instruction
Holding up a striking picture related to the session, such as environmental debris if the class topic is related to the environment, is sure to get all eyes on you. Don’t comment on it; allow students to start the dialogue.

4 Make a startling statement or give a quote
Writing a surprising statement or quote related to the content on the board has a similar effect: for example “More than half of children in California speak some language other than English at home” if the topic is language acquisition.

5 Write a pop quiz question on the board
Write a basic comprehension question related to the reading on the board. Students have to answer it on slips of paper and turn them in. This gets students focused right away on course material. The question can then lead to discussion after the quiz.

10 Tips for Holding Attention

Now you have your students’ attention; holding it is another story.

1 Relevant tasks
Know your students and relate content to them, and relate the content to the course objectives. For example, if the content is the Vietnam War, finding out what they already know about the Vietnam War and how it relates to their lives is important.

2 Teach at appropriate level of difficulty
Material too hard or too difficult can result in student inattention. Check for understanding or boredom at the beginning. Then tailor the material to the class: for example, if you are teaching the past tense and find students already have control over the simple past and past progressive, find out what they know about the past perfect. Or if you’ve given all three tenses at them, assuming it’s just review, but they appear lost, focus on just one tense.

3 Use choral chants of material
Better for lower-level students, having students chant together key phrases or sentences from the material gets them focused on the material. This also provides practice in the rhythm and intonation of English.

4 Make presentations clear
Use of clear charts and visuals hold students’ attention and make the content clear.

5 Involve students in lecture
Don’t just lecture on the past tense with charts and board work; this will surely put everyone to sleep. During the lecture, stop to ask students about last weekend, summer, etc., to keep them involved in the content and practicing the material.

6 Use humor
Use of humor related to the content is another attention-getter: students appreciate teachers who know how to use humor appropriately related to the material. For example, relating a brief humorous anecdote about what a bad day you had yesterday to demonstrate past tense verbs will get students’ attention and lighten the mood.

7 Establish the routine, task, and time limit
If students are to work in groups, for example, they should know which group they belong in, what they will be doing, and for how long.

8 Plan carefully and fully; make the plan apparent to students
Students will lose focus if the objectives and plan for the lesson are not clear to them. Writing what the class will be doing on the board helps keep focus.

9 Divide tasks into manageable subskills
If students are going to be participating in a class debate, telling them to “Debate the issue” may result in a lot of students wandering around confused. Outline what is involved in a debate on the board and break it down: today decide the issue and our sides; tomorrow establish the roles within our teams, the next day research, and so forth.

10 Establish clear roles
In doing the debate, to continue the example, everyone within the group should have a task: either preparing some research for the debate, outlining the debate, preparing a counterargument, etc. If everyone’s role is clear, and everyone has a job to do, this results in less web-surfing and updating Facebook profiles during class. (Yes, adults and ESL students do it, too.)

by Stacia Levy

Posted in Classroom Resources


“In a busy life, Copi is a father who tries to teach the right way to his son, Paste. But… what is the correct path?”

This is a beautiful silent film that really drives home some important messages and would just be great on its own with advanced classes as a discussion prompt about “the rat race” and the ills of both school and work.

However, it works great with lower levels too. Here are some materials to help use in class.

1. Story retelling ppt.  Show and have students retell after watching or use the cards attached also. Next read the book on Gif Lingua to take up the story and students can also study the vocabulary there. Teachers register for worksheets and to download the book as a pptx to show in class and edit.

2. Students can also rewrite the story.

3. Students can compare school and work using a venn diagram – see attached. Also compare themselves to a partner and find similarities/differences.

4. Finally consider having students do the attached grammar poem to express what is special about their life and selves. They can present in class.

Enjoy this fine animated video!